With all this talk about Britain marching off to lead the world in alternative fuels such as electric power, it may be tempting to think of the internal combustion engine as a dying breed.

Proof that this is not the case cannot be more clearly spelt out than when standing next to the Tiger engine assembly line at Ford’s Dagenham plant, watching 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre units filing past in a 24-hour cycle.

These engines take an hour and a half to create from a bare cylinder block. Every 28 seconds a finished unit reaches the end of the line.

It is fascinating to watch the cycle in this immaculate factory, much of it done by highly skilled robots, and remind yourself that internal combustion engines, albeit increasingly efficient ones, are alive and well.

The reason we are here is to celebrate 80 years of Ford’s Dagenham plant, a 475-acre complex on the Thames, which now produces 1,000,000 engines a year.

It creates a wide range of diesel engines that are destined for Europe, Japan and even Brazil, in Mazdas, Fords, Volvos and Jaguar Land Rovers, and the particular units coming off the Tiger line give the Fiesta 1.6 TDCi ECOnetic fuel consumption of 61.4mpg and CO2 emissions of just 98 g/km.

It may be that one day we have to switch to alternative power sources, but for a car today these are impressive figures. 

They are also a leap forward from the 34.4mpg and 184 g/km Fiesta 1.4 Ghia of 1996, which, incidentally, cost almost £1,000 more than the latest Econetic.

Ford, like pretty much every car maker, hasn’t escaped the credit crunch and the number of engines produced per day on the Tiger line has dropped by 550 in just six months to 1600 (the maximum capacity is 2400).

But with scrappage looming there is an air of positivity in the factory and the workers are anticipating a surge in productivity.

Ford is coy about how many more new engines it will be churning out, but it could soon be back to the same capacity as before the global downturn.

Looks like the internal combustion engine may not just be a force to be reckoned with – it could even be staging a comeback.

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